It's not often that you get a game that mixes elements of Risk and Scrabble. But that's exactly what Quarrel is. It's also a game that might make you want to have a real life exchange of words with your Xbox, making it an enticing, addictive and mentally stimulating puzzle game well worth 400 XBLA points.
While the Xbox Live version of Quarrel's dynamics are fundamentally the same as the near year-old iOS version, several key tweaks and new features have been added to offer a more console sized experience.
Quarrel's central mechanic is similar to Risk, taking the same turn-based strategy dynamic. The game asks you to coordinate troops and mount attacks across the map with the central goal of eradicating the other factions. However, unlike Risk where the fate of your troops was decided by the role of a dice, Quarrel puts the onus on you, asking you to battle your opponent in a duel of words.
The battle dynamic will place an anagram in front of you, challenging you to create a word out of the letters. The player with the highest scoring word wins the battle taking the territory or successfully repelling the enemy's advance. As an added layer of depth, like Scrabble, the longest word isn't necessarily the best, in each anagram certain words count for more points. Additionally, just to make things even more interesting, you can only use as many letters as you have troops in the area - meaning a lightly fortified area with only two or three troops is at a natural disadvantage, only being able to create basic words.
Like Risk, the game has a points reward system. Every point earned in the game helps fill a small bar circling the player's icon. When filled players are given a reserve unit that can be called at the start of a battle to help bolster their numbers quickly without the need to move them from another area.
The bar also gives players a reason to continue paying attention even when they're not involved in the action. Other factions are battling Quarrel challenges to answer the same anagram, offering bonus points for the words they find. These bonus points add to the same bonus meter as direct challenges, letting them stock up on reserve units - a good feature considering up to four players can take part in a game.
In terms of options, Quarrel offers both single player and online multiplayer options. Facing off against the computer, there's a helpful tutorial mode that ably explains the game's ins and outs. There's also Challenge, Domination and Showdown modes, each with between 10 to 12 levels and events. Despite the amount on offer, be warned, as Quarrel's single player is its weakest point.
After breaking out of the early levels, when challenging stronger AI controlled opponents the game can at points feel cheap, with the computer reeling out words most Oxford University language professors would have to look up. By the end of Domination, the computer would get the complete anagram every single time. This wouldn't be a problem other than the fact that many of the complete eight letter words are completely outlandish. All in all this means that in order to complete the mode you'll regularly have to play a perfect game, getting the eight letter word every single time - it's rather unrealistic unless you're a mega wordsmith.
It's a shame that the marked difficulty spike spoils the single player experience. The computer's insane vocabulary makes what in essence is a game about the power of words, render the player into a frustrated mess only capable of using some - less than choice - four letter words.
Luckily, Quarrel's multiplayer offering more than makes up for the single player's shortcomings. Quarrel offers a host of customisation options, letting players create their own games or jump into the action in both ranked and player matches. Additionally, the albeit condescending and at times heartbreaking, IQ skill meter ensures that when you do play online, it's usually not a complete lesson in humility. While there is no local multiplayer options, in our time with the game, we managed to get into some fairly heated four player extravaganzas online, many of which could take hours to complete.
In short, Quarrel is an exciting and challenging game, that's opening premise has the potential to provide hours of entertainment. That said the game won't be for everybody, the game does expect you to have a sizable vocabulary and at times you will be stumped to find any words what-so-ever. This when combined with later computer opponents' ridiculous ability to get the full anagram every time can make playing the game frustrating rather than entertaining. Luckily this can be easily avoided by playing online with real human opponents, where the game's IQ skill checker ably ensures you're always matched with people of a similar skill level.
|» Clever mix of Risk and Scrabble gameplay.|
|» Addictive Multiplayer.|
|» Cheap as Chips.|
|» Ridiculously difficult in later levels.|
|» Anagrams are at times too niche.|
|» No local multiplayer.|